Port of Call, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico Excursions: Ship Wreck & Reef Snorkel at Grand Cayman, Mayan Ruins of Tulum (in Tulum, Mexico...took ferry from Cozumel).
First of all, I want to thank our maitre'd, head waiter, head room stewart, and the Cardinal Lounge bartenders for their entertainment, brief conversation, birthday wishes, kindness, and expression condolences. While at sea, my husband got an emergency phone call from home that his sick brother took a turn for the worse. The next day was my husband's birthday when another phone call came that his brother died the night before. Days later, I met and thanked our maitre'd for fabulous food and entertainment being a distraction to a difficult week, he expressed his condolences and gave me a big hug. As we were about to disembark, our head room steward made it a point to once again wish my husband Happy Birthday and expressed condolences. He not only remembered our names the whole week but also the birthday and family situation.
Cruise versus road trip? A 5-day cruise for two can be cheaper than 5 days on land if paying $80/night for lodging, $27/day for rental car, $70/ day for breakfast/lunch/dinner, and whatever you want to spend on great entertainment. On the cruise you get to eat, drink, swim on-board, hit the hot tub, have fun all day, & hit the shows at night...all 5 nights.
Motion sickness: take OTC med with you or wait until on-board and go to medical quarters and grab a few free packets of Meclizine; you'll be glad you did.
Money and spending on land: Take all US Dollars $20 bills and smaller. Shops on Grand Cayman Island and in Cozumel and Tulum, Mexico do business in US dollars (USD). Grand Cayman Island gift shop gave change back in USD; not sure if the shops in Mexico did.
Grand Cayman traffic: cars are on opposite of road than in US. Look both ways before crossing!
Pre-booking: Read all the info on the websites for the TSA, INS, and the cruise line's FAQs page. I'm glad I did. Also read other cruise critic reviews to get a variety of opinions and information.
Book cruise through travel agent and get travel insurance to cover trip interruption, cancellation, etc. for covered reasons. Be sure to read the policy. A family member whose serious health is diagnosed after coverage begins might not be considered a "pre-existing condition" . Should the person's health/death force you to cancel your trip, you could be reimbursed for expenses (i.e flight and cruise fare). Illness diagnosed before coverage is "pre-existing condition" and you will likely not be covered.
Once cruise is booked, consider flying to city of embarkation (ours was Tampa) a day in advance. Be sure the hotel provides shuttle service to the ship terminal. Get up early the next morning and get to the ship early. You may be able to get on-board earlier than expected then have lunch while waiting for room to be ready. Don't try to save a few dollars by not paying porters to take your bags to your room. Pay them to do it for you. Free your hands up because the room won't be available for a few hours. Go have lunch and tour the ship.
After booking, the cruise line will mail you a "FunPass" information booklet for each passenger. It's pretty much spelled out and the print is easier to read on the website. Set up a login account on the cruise line's website, then go to "MyCruise" link. to create your on-board account to give your ATM/credit card information for on-board expenses. Your Sail & Sign card will be issued at the terminal; use it for all on-board expenses including booking excursions; it will forward all your charges to whatever credit/ATM card you designate it to (when creating your on-board account information). Your Sail & Sign card also acts as your room key and ID to board and un board the ship. Once at the terminal, you will need to show your passport and booking ID information. Don't waste your money on a US passport card...presenting those or birth certificates with driver's licenses are a useless idea after June 2009 and passport books will be pretty much the only acceptable legal documentation to re-enter the US by land, air, and sea. Read up on travel information on the TSA and INS websites.
Book excursions on-board rather than in advance. If trip or excursion is cancelled, interrupted, or changes are made, it's easier to deal with it if booked through cruise lines while on-board. Another good reason to wait to book once you're on-board is there are a lot more excursions to choose from. Book them right away as they may fill up. I almost had to cancel our entire trip due to a deathly-ill family member before embarking. We would not have been able to recover the cost of the excursions if we booked in advance. Those with excursions booked are first to get off ship. Also, keep in mind many land excursions require a long of walking and may not be wheelchair/walker/cane friendly. Mayan Ruins of Tulum while a splendid tour, can be rocky, a little bit of sandy, soft ground, very hot & humid and a lot of walking.....but worth it! If you think you might be swimming while on your excursion, change into your swimwear before leaving the ship...it will be your only chance.
Can experience gusty wind on-board. 30 mph wind gusts were strong at the forward end of the ship. If you're average to smaller build, hang-on tight and stay away from the railing during very windy periods. If at all possible, don't wear hearing aids or loose-fitting glasses up there either. Salty air and humidity could ruin the hearing aids or cause them to fall out. Mine nearly fell off and went overboard. Cameras: When going from inside to outside the shop, film video and snapshot cameras need to be acclimated to the humidity for about 15 minutes before use. Take lens defogger with you everywhere. Our video camera's tape tangled in the camera for a while. We learned that waiting at least 15 minutes helped.
Cruise Director show: It's on TV in the room several times a day. Be sure to watch it daily for important information; especially day before debarkation.
Room stewards and dinner wait staff: let them introduce themselves and learn your names; it's part of their job. They will impress you with their service and the ability to remember your name after the first day. Their service and friendliness was way above my expectations. Consider tipping them (on your on-board bill) more than what you are charged for their service.
Dinners: Dressed nice. Food and service was fabulous Formal Dinner Night: All dinners onboard were so delicious that I felt this particular dinner was over-rated. We saw the pictures on-line and decided our "Sunday-best" would do. Others looked as if they did the same.
Adult and kid friendly: an outside lounge area for adults only, indoor lounge for teens only, activity room for the really little kids, and a newer water slide on and kids pool on the upper deck. A casino is on-board also.
On-board emergencies: if you hear an urgent call for a specific area/room, unless you are directly affected, do not go check it out. Stay in your room and out of the way.
Cell phone calls: contact your cellular service provider to get the rates. Cheaper on land than onboard! Due to a death in the family back home while we were at sea, we used our cell phone quite a bit on-board and on land..
Cleanliness; the ship is impeccably clean. The crew works day and night to keep it clean...including the windows and brass railing of the stair wells.
Day 1 (10.06.08): Embarkation. Arrived in Tampa day before this and stayed the night at a hotel; got up early the next morning and took the hotel shuttle to the terminal. You will need to stand in line a while to get your picture taken for your on-board Sail & Sign card which acts as on-board credit card, room access key, and your ID to leave and re-board the ship. Got on-board an hour ahead of schedule. Glad we paid the porters to handle our luggage; it was waiting for us in our stateroom later. Ate lunch on-board then toured the ship. After lunch, we toured the ship on our own then went to forward section of ship on upper exterior deck just below the horn. Watched dolphins jump out of the water just ahead of the ship.
Sail & Sign card: must have it with you at all times both on board and on land. It's the only way to get back on the ship and get in your room.
Safe box in stateroom: need to designate a plastic card to close it and must use same card to open it. Can't be on-board card or credit/bank card. Try using store shopping rewards card.
Emergency drill: a MUST ATTEND. Take life jackets with you. Can be found in the closet in your room.
Day 2 (10.07.08): Fun day at sea. Enjoyed the beautiful view of the water from the decks; saw the island of Cuba from a distance. If you enjoy alcoholic drinks, people say they are expensive; I didn't think they cost much more than drinks back home in the US. Keep your drink cups though and re-use them. For your next drink, you'll give you a clean cup and $1.00 off the drink. Went to the formal dinner. Dressed up just a little more than we did all the other nights. I felt the Formal Dinner was over rated. The food was fantastic but not much better than all the other delicious food served day and night.
Day 3 (10.08.08): Booked this excursion on board. Went on the Shipwreck & Reef Snorkel excursion. Snorkeling: the water is so salty I didn't need a life jacket to float. Those under a certain age (teens) are required to ear a lifejacket. Snorkel guides provide clean, sanitized snorkel gear. Be sure to closely follow their pre-snorkel instructions. Change into your water-fun clothes on the ship; restrooms on land next to the water aren't the cleanest. Beautiful reefs! Was not impressed with the shipwreck part though. Take a water-proof disposable (or digital) camera. You'll be glad you did. If you drop your mask or camera in the water; it will sink. The water is so clear you can see the bottom. Notify a snorkel staffer and it can be retrieved.
Other water excursions: don't put your wallet in your pocket! Leave it somewhere safe like on the snorkel boat. Someone we met lost all his personal cards including his credit & ATM cards, Sail & Sign card and his card to access the safe in the room. If you lose your S&S ID card while on board or land, notify the ship personnel.
Day 4 (10.09.08): Booked this excursion on board. Went to the Mayan Ruins of Tulum: Cost includes ferry to mainland, tour bus, tour guide, entrance to ruins, and light snack. Took a ferry ride from Cozumel to mainland of Mexico, then a tour bus about 30 miles into Mexican and was narrated and lead by a tour guide. Don't let him fool you, he spoke English very well. Wear comfortable shoes meant for walking and pack sun screen and insect repellant! Mexican vendors swamp you at the steps of the bus and sell insect repellant among other wares...take your own repellant. Pay the tour guide to get you on the tram, it cost us only $2.00/person. It will get you there and back faster. The first half of the tour takes you along a mosquito-infested trail with dense foliage; but that part doesn't last long. Take snap shot and and video cameras (take the cases too in case of rain)...contrary to the tour book's threat of "Mexican government charges $5.00 to take video footage" we did not experience that. Be prepared to walk a lot and experience very hot temps, humidity & rain. Don't bother buying the $5.00 trash bags from the vendors. Enjoy the rain; it will feel better than the heat and humidity to follow.
Day 5 (10.10.08): Fun Day at Sea. Enjoyed the last full day relaxing on the decks and exchanging stories with others about their excursions and other cruising experiences. Photos: Go ahead and have some fun posing. You're not financially obligated unless you want to purchase them later. The photos the staff takes of you onboard are later displayed for your (and everyone else's) viewing and for your purchase. Throughout the week, your photos are posted for your viewing and interest in purchase. This is the best night to pore over all your photos and pick the ones you want to purchase.
Cruise Director's show: I watched on TV. Very important to watch, especially for first time cruisers. Very informative.
Day 6 (10.11.08) Debarkation Day. Enjoyed eating one last big breakfast onboard. Handle your luggage yourself and you'll get off faster; we did. Consider sharing a taxi to the airport. Taxis to the airport are $25 for up to 4 people. We shared a taxi with another couple from our table. Don't bother calling for a taxi, they'll be at the terminal already waiting for your business!
My husband and I were first time cruisers and this website was very informative for us. If you're planning your first cruise, I hope this was loads of helpful information. Talk to others who've been on cruises to get more information; we're glad we did. If you've never been on Carnival Inspiration or haven't been since they remodeled the ship, give it a try and have fun! The service exceeded our expectations.